There’s a Shortage of American Nurses

Posted By Terri Williams on October 9, 2015 at 10:42 am
There’s a Shortage of American Nurses

Nursing is the single largest health profession in the United States. Yet 2.8 million nurses are not enough to keep up with the country’s healthcare needs. For over 20 years, there has been a shortage of nurses, and in 2008, healthcare industry groups and federal government agencies began to debate whether that shortage was finally over. However, seven years later, it appears that nurses are scarcer than ever.

USr Healthcare, a healthcare talent acquisition company, conducted an 18-month study of job vacancies and hiring data at small, medium, and large hospitals in various markets. The study revealed that demand for nursing is outpacing the ability to fill open positions.

USr attributes the shortage to four distinct factors:

  1. At least one-third of the nurses currently working will retire in the next 10 to 15 years. While nursing has experienced growth, it is concentrated among younger and older workers. Currently, there are fewer RNs between the ages of 36 to 45 than there were in 2006.
  1. The flood of baby boomers is creating a “Silver Tsunami.” By 2020, there will be 8 million older adults living in the U.S. These individuals are expected to live longer than previous generations, and they will have a multitude of health problems and require medical attention.
  1. The passage of the Affordable Care Act means 30 to 34 million additional people are eligible for health insurance, straining the health care system.
  1. Up to 75% of current nursing educators are projected to retire in the near future, which could reduce the number of new registered nurses to a 20-year low. The average associate nursing professor is 52 years old, and the average assistant professor is 49 years old. When these instructors retire, there will be a backlog in the training pipeline.

Should you consider nursing?

For students still trying to decide on a degree, nursing could be an excellent choice. The high demand means that jobs will be plentiful, and the profession offers a lucrative salary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses earn a mean hourly wage of $33.55, and a mean annual wage of $68,790.

GoodCall spoke with two nursing professors and two registered nurses to get their perspectives on the career.

According to Marcia J. Derby-Davis, Ph.D, RN, Associate Professor at Nova Southeastern University’s College of Nursing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, “A career in nursing provides the opportunity to work in a variety of settings, including home care, insurance companies, primary care clinics, the military, and many other health-related agencies.” She also says a career in nursing provides the opportunity to become a travel nurse and explore the world while getting paid.

Professor Derby-Davis believes that the retirement projections as a result of aging nurse faculty provide a unique opportunity. She says, “Nurses can obtain an advanced degree and pursue a career as college and university educators preparing future nurses and nurse leaders to shape healthcare policies and legislation that support nursing practice, education, and future research.”

But nursing shortage or not, it takes a certain skill set to succeed in this profession. Marguerite Corda, Assistant Professor of the Harriet Rothkopf Heilbrunn School of Nursing at Long Island University Brooklyn, explains, “The nursing profession and our patients really need strong, caring, critical thinkers in order to give the high standard of care that is required by our patients, and that’s what is also needed in the nursing profession for us to grow.

Professor Corda says people who are considering a healthcare career should strongly consider nursing if they are seeking patient involvement and if they are caring and compassionate.

However, she advises potential students against choosing just any path to a nursing career. “It is strongly recommended that nursing candidates seek a program that will give them a bachelor’s degree in nursing. It is the future standard the profession is looking to attain,” says Professor Corda.

While most people are accustomed to seeing nurses in traditional hospital settings, healthcare is increasingly shifting to the outpatient and preventative care settings. “That has led to a decrease in hiring for traditional inpatient care nurses, but a larger demand in outpatient care, ambulatory surgery and home healthcare,” explains Professor Corda.

Paulette Felton, RN, BSN at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta, GA, says nursing is a rewarding profession for those who like helping people. “The majority of patients really appreciate everything you do for them. They know the people who made the difference in their hospital stay.”

Felton says another advantage of nursing is that the profession allows you to have a variety of different jobs. “If you do not like certain aspects of a particular job, you can find something totally different. It just takes a little homework – reading and asking around.”

Felton has been a registered nurse for 30 years. She says her favorite part of nursing is the science, and she says that learning about the human body is always an amazing experience.

Regarding salary, Felton says, “Many people talk about how salaries have not kept up with other professions, but I think our salary is consistent. Most nurses make as much money as they work, which makes us more like laborers at times.”

Tamara Dillard, also an RN at Emory, loves the profession as well. “To be able to touch people physically and emotionally is such a blessing,” says Dillard. She also appreciates being able to go wherever she wants to and the opportunity to experience different types of nursing jobs. “I have been every kind of nurse I’ve wanted to be in the last 14 and a half years.” Dillard proclaims, “Become a nurse—it’s the best career that will ever choose you!”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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